Results tagged ‘ Theo Epstein ’

Now Playing: A memorable Opening Night at Wrigley Field

There’s nothing like Opening Day (or Night) to get you excited for the season. The North Siders are coming off a huge offseason, and this was many fans’ first opportunity to see new manager Joe Maddon, prized free-agent lefty Jon Lester, leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler and the rest of the team in person. Plus, the Cubs were the nationally televised, ESPN2 Opening Night affair—the only game on the major league slate—and debuted the new 3,990-square-foot video board in left field. To make things even better, the Cardinals were in town, and it was Lester toeing the slab versus St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. The house was packed, and it felt like a playoff atmosphere. If you couldn’t be at Wrigley Field Sunday night, Vine Line was there to give you a look at all the Opening Night festivities.

ESPN’s Law ranks the Cubs’ system best in baseball

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Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”

That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.

1. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.

Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.

Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.

 

2015 Cubs Convention: Meet Cubs Baseball Management

Through a series of trades, free agent signings and the hiring of new manager Joe Maddon, this offseason has been busy for the Baseball Operations department. On Saturday morning, Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Coomer and CBS Radio personality Josh Liss met with President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush and Assistant General Manager Shiraz Rehman to discuss how the offseason unfolded. Here’s what went down with the Baseball Operations department at the 2015 Cubs Convention:

Josh Liss kicks things off thanks to the new CBS partnership. Coomer talks about having total knee replacement surgery in the offseason. He looks pretty good for eight weeks out from surgery. Coomer opens by talking about the excitement of the Cubs this season. “Baseball is a better game when the Cubs are good,” Coomer says.

When asked about the team’s confidence, Epstein mentions that the team is still undefeated in 2015. He’s done tempering expectations. Cubs fans deserve to get excited after the last three years. He thinks the team will be really fun to watch this year.

“When you have players who have won the World Series and been to the top of the mountain, it provides great perspective for everyone else.,” Epstein says of signing Jon Lester. Bush talks about how experienced players can be steadying for the club.

Bush and Rehman talk about working for Epstein and Hoyer.

“It’s a pretty dynamic place to go to work every day,” Bush says. “It’s a pretty exciting group of guys from Theo all the way down. … It’s one of the most exciting places I’ve ever come to work.”

Rehman talks about the strides the team has made rebuilding the farm system. The trades they made were tough, but they were building for the future. Now that’s starting to pay off.

Bush talks about Epstein/Hoyer’s great sense of humor and how smart they are. They’re all about gathering information and accumulating as many resources as possible about players.

Hoyer and Epstein talk about their trip to a Florida RV park to land Maddon. They knew it was a great opportunity and wanted to be aggressive. Maddon was traveling the county in his RV (the Cousin Eddie). They met him in Florida and realized they hadn’t brought anything for Maddon and his wife. They quickly made a stop at Publix to get some wine. They sat and talked baseball for about six hours on plastic chairs in the sand. Epstein talks about how engaging Maddon is and how he can bring out the best in you. Players feel that too. Two days later, they were in Maddon’s agent’s office in Chicago hammering out a contract.

“When things present themselves that are such great opportunities, don’t overthink things. Just pounce,” Epstein says of Maddon’s hiring. Says he’s missed out on other opportunities/players by not being so aggressive. You deal with the ramifications later.

Hoyer talks about the challenges of playing/managing in Chicago, but says Maddon is great at finding creative solutions to bringing teams together. Won with few resources in Tampa.

Maddon understands that players need to have a life away from the ballpark, Hoyer says. You need to keep players fresh and keep things interesting. He has days when players don’t have to show up early for batting practice, themed trips, etc.

Hoyer talks about the new coaches. Calls Dave Martinez a future manager. Talks about Mallee’s work in Houston with guys like Jose Altuve and Cris Carter. Plus, he has had success with right-handed power hitters (which the Cubs have a lot of).

Epstein says Eric Hinske will be a nice complement to Mallee as asst. hitting coach. Very different personalities. Also talks about the guys who are coming back, Borzello, Strode, Jones, Bosio, etc.

Borzello and Bosio work amazingly hard breaking down hitters and going over scouting reports. Epstein says every time he goes into coaching room, those guys are watching video, breaking down opposing hitters. Rehman says he and Borzello had an hour-long conversation last night after midnight about pitch-framing. That’s the kind of passion these guys have for the game, he says.

Now we’re on Jon Lester. Epstein talks about how Lester could have gone a lot of places given his career, character, track-record, but he was up for the challenge of coming to Chicago. At dinner after the initial meeting, Lester kept saying, “They’re going to burn this city down again when we win the World Series.”

They really tailored the pitch to Lester because they knew him. Felt like they were cheating because they knew so much about Lester and his family. But, ultimately, Lester simply wanted to come here.

Epstein talks about Lester’s pitch mix and his experience pitching at Fenway. It has forced him to get creative and be adaptable. He should be able to handle pitching at Wrigley Field. He doesn’t just rely on one thing/pitch to get guys out.

Hoyer talks about the catching situation and what they have in Miguel Montero. He’s a great pitch-framer, great defensive catcher and a guy who really relates well to pitchers. Many people have told Hoyer David Ross is one of the best teammates in the game and an excellent clubhouse leader. These are the kinds of guys who can be mentors to a young team. They still like Welington Castillo a great deal, but Ross was just too good to pass up.

They knew they needed to add leadership this offseason to help build a winning culture. They feel really good about what they’ve added. Coaches can’t do everything. You also need teammates who can pull guys aside and correct bad behaviors or help guys who are struggling.

Young players are mainly thinking about staying in the big leagues/survival. There’s a necessary selfishness there, Bush says. We need guys who can help foster a team concept and make those guys more comfortable. That’s why they liked hearing Rizzo’a comments about wining the NL Central.

Next comes the question-and-answer session with fans:

  • The first question is about the draft and how they choose players. Epstein talks about how the track record for the best college bat is usually very good. They have a predisposition to that type of player with high picks. They tend to return about twice as much value as a pitcher at the top of the draft. You get your pitching through volume. You have to hammer it throughout the course of the draft.
  • How do you determine how young guys get at-bats? Javy Baez got a lot even though he struck out. Olt and Lake had a shorter leash. Hoyer said they wanted Javy to learn through his at-bats. They felt he needed that to get his feet under him in the major leagues. They wanted to bring him up and let him play. Lake and Olt lost time because other guys, like Chris Coghlan and Luis Valbuena, had strong seasons.
  • Here’s a question about when Kris Bryant is going to come up, especially if he hits in Spring Training. Epstein says it’s a balance of factors. It’s not just protecting the service clock. He uses Baez and Soler as an example. They’re trying to do the right thing for Bryant’s development and for the team.
  • The next question is about where the offensive production is going to come from. Epstein says there’s a good chance for improved production behind the plate with Montero/Ross/Castillo. But if the Cubs are going to be really good, it’s because young players are going to take big steps forward. They still really like Luis Valbuena at third, and Bryant will likely be up this year. But guys like Baez and Soler will have to step up. Alcantara can beat you with power and speed. There’s a lot of young talent on this team, but they need to take steps forward.
  • There’s a question about the development of the minor league pitchers like C.J. Edwards and Carson Sands. Rehman says Duane Underwood took some real steps forward last year. Jen-Ho Tseng has a four-pitch mix and throws up to 95. Really just a teenager. Edwards and Hendricks are more known commodities. Pitchers tend to surprise you more than hitters.

That’s it. Maddon and his Staff are next on the schedule. Stay tuned for more. We’ll be blogging all day today and tomorrow.

Cubs officially sign LHP Jon Lester to a six-year contract

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(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

The biggest move of baseball’s offseason became official Monday when the Cubs and pitcher Jon Lester agreed to terms on a six-year contract that includes a vesting option for the 2021 season.

Lester, 30, is a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion during his nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox (2006-14) and Oakland Athletics (2014). He has a pair of top five Cy Young Award finishes (2010 and 2014, both fourth), four top 10 finishes for the ERA title and six top 10 finishes in wins. The left-hander has made more than 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons, eclipsed 200 innings in six of the past seven and has three seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. His .634 career winning percentage (116-67) ranks fifth among all active pitchers.

The Cubs beat out teams like Boston, the Dodgers and San Francisco, who were all reported to have offered the southpaw significant deals. In the end though, the steps the Cubs had taken to produce sustained success swayed the starter.

“I believe in the plan and the thing that’s in place right now for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said. “Obviously leaving a place that you’ve already won and the comfort of that it’s difficult, but also you can relish in the process of enjoying the chance of winning a World Series for a franchise that never has just adds that little extra for me.”

Overall, Lester is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA (635 ER/1,596.0 IP) in 253 major league appearances, all but one as a starting pitcher. Among big league left-handed pitchers active at the end of the 2014 campaign, he ranks best with an average of only 0.82 home runs per nine innings, second with 8.22 strikeouts per nine innings, third in ERA, fourth in wins and WHIP (1.28), and fifth with 1,457 strikeouts and 156 quality starts. He threw the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history on May 19, 2008, a 7-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.

A World Champion with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, Lester is 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 postseason appearances, 12 as a starter. He has won all three of his World Series starts, posting a 0.43 ERA, and was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 in 2007 in Colorado.

Lester turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2014 when he went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with the Red Sox and Athletics. He earned an All-Star nod and recorded his lowest single-season ERA, which ranked fourth in the American League. He struck out 220 batters and walked only 48, good for a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked seventh in the league. Lester was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts for the Red Sox before being traded to Oakland on July 31, where he went 6-4 with an even better 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.

Eptsein and current Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer were members of Boston’s front office for the majority of Lester’s tenure, with Epstein serving as general manager from 2003-11. Along with Lester’s success on the field, Epstein said he respects the pitcher’s drive and character, which were equally important attributes that led to the signing.

“He’s focused, competitive, hard working, intense and now fully mature. I think he’s got good self-awareness and understands the group concept,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “And he’s at his best in the most important moments, I think because he’s so driven and focused and not swayed on outside variables like pressure.”

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lester was originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2002 Draft (57th overall) out of high school and was in the big leagues just four years later at the age of 22. He made his debut on June 10, 2006, and made 15 starts before being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late-August. Lester was declared cancer-free in December of that year and returned to the big leagues on July 23, 2007, going a perfect 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 12 outings (11 starts) down the stretch to help the Red Sox to the playoffs and a World Series championship.

Lester began his run of seven straight seasons with more than 30 starts in 2008 and has posted 15 or more victories in six of those seasons, including a career-high 19 wins in 2010, his first of two-straight All-Star seasons. He struck out 225 batters in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010, his single-season career bests.  In 2013, Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship.

Now Playing: Joe Maddon makes his Cubs debut

It took all of about three minutes for Chicago sports fans to fall in love with new Cubs manager Joe Maddon. In his introductory press conference at the Cubby Bear, the spry and entertaining 60-year-old opened with a quick story about meeting Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in his beloved RV (the Cousin Eddie) and closed by offering to buy the entire press conference a drink. On Monday, Maddon became the 54th manager in franchise history, when he agreed to terms on a five-year contract through the 2019 season.

A two-time AL Manager of the Year during his nine seasons with Tampa Bay (2006-14), Maddon joins the Cubs after guiding the Rays to four postseason appearances (2008, 2010-11, 2013), including the organization’s lone World Series appearance in 2008 when he earned his first Manager of the Year award. He earned the honor again in 2011.

Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights from Monday’s press conference.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Cubs system is hitting its stride

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The following is from the Inside Pitch section of March’s Vine Line.

From 1929-38, as the world suffered through the Great Depression, the Cubs ironically experienced their last sustained run of on-field prosperity. Over that 10-year stretch, they had the best record and most World Series appearances (four) of any NL team.

Since then, whether the organization has attempted a quick fix or a measured reconstruction, efforts to rekindle that flame have produced only flickers.

Two and a half years ago, Ricketts family ownership hired Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager to end the organization’s 75-year drought of inconsistency. Now entering their third season, Epstein and Hoyer realize the progress they see internally isn’t always obvious to fans.

“We take grief from friends, family and critics,” Epstein said. “But we know what’s coming. We have to continue to build with our group, because it’s going to be a lot of fun when we get there.”

The Cubs’ aim all along has been to become baseball’s next model organization, and, unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for that.

“We feel great about the people we have in place now,” Epstein said. “We’re talking about our scouting department, player development, professional scouts and major league staff. You’re constantly looking for new ways to improve. We look to do this by putting people in the right place, promoting the right guys and making sure everyone gets better at their job every year.”

Epstein’s goal is not to generate a single World Series title, but to create a consistent contender as he did in Boston. In his nine seasons there, the Red Sox made six postseason appearances and won both World Series in which they played. Moreover, almost half of Boston’s 2013 World Series championship roster was traceable to Epstein and his BoSox staff.

“We’re looking to be in position to win 90 games every year, which puts you in postseason [range],” Epstein said. “Winning 95 games gives you a chance to win your division. That’s our plan—not only to win a World Series, but to get into the postseason every year.

“Our group concentrates on a 10-year period, and we hope to be in contention at least eight out of 10 years, rather than going for one super team that might be fleeting—disappearing the next year and getting old the next.”

That’s why the Cubs have concentrated so heavily on amateur draft picks, international free agents and minor league prospects.

“We want to build a core that can be our nucleus for a long time,” Epstein said. “We’re not going to define our organization by scouting major league free agents. By the time they’re free agents, the good players are mostly 30 or older and huge investments. Our goal is to be an organization that doesn’t need to go into free agency that often because it has homegrown players.”

Since 2011, Jim Hendry’s final season as GM, the Cubs have enjoyed the bittersweet gift of drafting high after finishing low. But this process is already starting to bear fruit. Their last three No. 1 picks—Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant—rank among baseball’s top 20 prospects, and the club has seven players in the top 100, according to MLBPipeline.com.

Despite falling short in a valiant winter effort to land Japanese pitching prize Masahiro Tanaka, Epstein’s energetic group remains undeterred.

“You first and foremost cannot put together a successful organization without drafting well,” Epstein said. “Most of our trades in this phase will be about acquiring prospects.”

Just as the little things that win games don’t always show up in the box score, small details that produce a winning organization seldom make hot-stove headlines.

“Our group looks to find something every day to make this organization healthier,” Epstein said. “Hiring a good scout or making the right choice on a 10th-round draft pick, adding a quality coach or player development person—all are good short-term goals to become a great system. Finding a better bunt play to run or picking up a guy on waivers is all part of what we do to put us in a position to have more homegrown talent coming through our system—and to provide preprime and prime-age players to our roster and core.”

Still, Epstein realizes fans judge the front office by what occurs on the field.

“You can’t put in all your systems the first year,” he said. “It takes time. The market is different in each major league city. That’s part of the adjustment tour people must make when coming here. Take player development. You start a development program, bring in people and create a manual. Still, it takes years for the plan to be completely institutionalized and ingrained.

“Our analytics department took us a while. We wanted to make sure we had the right people. … We now have a full-fledged department working to get an advantage on our competition, and that only this year has come into play. We’re just hitting our stride in prioritizing player development and scouting first. We were objectively behind in those areas.”

So how do you gauge progress?

“Two and a half years into this,” Epstein said, “we’re spending a lot less time in our meetings talking about the process we have to go through.”

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

Cubs agree to terms with RHPs Hammel, McDonald

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The Cubs added RHP Jason Hammel to the rotation today. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty)

At their first press conference at new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., Cubs president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer announced they have signed right-handed pitchers Jason Hammel and James McDonald to 2014 contracts.

Hammel, 31, is 49-59 with four saves and a 4.80 ERA in 215 major league appearances (158 starts) with Tampa Bay (2006-08), Colorado (2009-11) and Baltimore (2012-13). He has pitched primarily as a starter in the last five years and is 42-43 with a 4.60 ERA in 130 starts during that span. Hammel also has a pair of 10-win seasons to his credit (2009-10) and has made 20 or more starts in each of the last five seasons, including two years with 30 or more starts.

In his first season with Baltimore in 2012, 6-foot-6, 225-pound pitcher went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts to help the Orioles to their first postseason appearance in 15 years, earning starts in Game 1 and Game 5 of the American League Division Series vs. the New York Yankees (0-1, 3.18 ERA). Hammel was also a finalist in the MLB Fan Vote for the last spot on the American League All-Star team. He followed up by going 7-8 with one save and a 4.97 ERA in 26 appearances, all but three as a starter, with Baltimore in 2013.

McDonald, 29, is 32-30 with a 4.20 ERA in 131 major league appearances (82 starts) with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2010-13). In his most recent full major league season in 2012, McDonald went 12-8 with a 4.21 ERA in 30 appearances (29 starts), setting a career high in wins a year after making a career-high 31 starts in 2011. He was limited to only six starts last year (2-2, 5.76 ERA) due to right shoulder discomfort.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound McDonald broke into the big leagues with the Dodgers in 2008 at the age of 23 and split the next three seasons between the majors and minors before enjoying his first full big league campaign in 2011. He was the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007 and 2008.

This pair of moves gives the team added rotation depth, which will come in handy early in the season. The team also announced that starter Jake Arrieta has experienced minor shoulder discomfort and is unlikely to start the year on the roster.

Live at CubsCon: Front office panel

In front of a nearly full ballroom, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Shiraz Rehman, Randy Bush and Rick Renteria took the stage Saturday morning. The first set of questions were pointed at Epstein and Hoyer, discussing the current state of the organization and the hope for playoff baseball.

“The only way to make [the fans] happy is by playing October baseball on a regular basis, and that’s the plan,” Epstein said.

Hoyer continued that idea by saying World Series are won with sustained success, reaching the post season more times than not over the period of a decade, and that history has shown you don’t get there by spending a ton of money one season and hoping to get lucky.

“You don’t win a World Series with the lightning in the bottle, you win because you get there a lot and catch some good breaks,” Hoyer said.

New manager Renteria made some early believers of fans, demonstrating his appreciation for the team, even as it stands right now. He says he used to look over to the other dugout during his time in San Diego and think “I’ll take this team right now, and I know what’s coming behind them.”

“My personality is suited to young players, I’ve been raising young kids my whole life, they’re my kids now,” Renteria said.

Not a ton of new information regarding Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka, as expected, as they don’t discuss the progress of signing situations.

Though Epstein said they weren’t going to spend for the sake of spending, he did say that if money wasn’t fully utilized this offseason, that it would be used at some point.

Epstein is also adamant that the Ricketts are in it for the long haul and not wavered by the criticism they’ve received thus far.

Finally, when asked about bringing up former top prospect Brett Jackson, Epstein admits it might have been a mistake to bring him up. At the same time, former manager Dale Sveum wanted to work exclusively with him on his swing.

Hof Off the Presses: May issue featuring the Cubs core

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Please don’t judge me, but …

I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. Look, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I moved a lot when I was younger and lived in Atlanta in the early ’80s. With each subsequent move, I was able to follow the Braves because of TBS.

Here’s what I remember about the Braves from my younger days—1981 was a miserable, strike-shortened year; 1982 was a blast until the postseason (a phenomenon I didn’t realize would repeat itself throughout my adulthood); 1983 was solid; and then depression set in.

The Braves were 80-82 in 1984, and that was by far the best it would get until the franchise began its unprecedented run of regular-season success in 1991. The late ’ 80s saw a wretched slide that reached its nadir in 1988, when the team went 54-106.

54-106!

So why am I recounting this sad chapter from my childhood? I see a lot of similarities between what the Braves were doing in the late ’80s/early ’90s and what the Cubs are doing now.

In 1990, the Braves went 65-97, good for last place in the NL West, 26 games behind the Reds. In 1991, they shocked the baseball world by winning 94 games and getting all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, they’ve been one of the most stable and consistently excellent teams in pro sports.

But the Braves’ worst-to-first run didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the team probably wasn’t as bad as its record in 1990. If you look back at the roster, it included names like Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Stanton, Ron Gant and David Justice. All those players had some important things in common—they were young, untested, and between the ages of 20 and 25.

When we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for our January issue, something he said resonated with me.

“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time.”

The Cubs might not shock the world this year, but they’re building that wave of talent—players who can grow together, win together, lose together, and ultimately figure things out together as they move into their prime years.

One of these waves is at the major league level now in Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. Epstein calls these players the “Cubs core.” And the organization is developing another strong group in the low minor leagues with high-ceiling players like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Dillon Maples.

In the May issue of Vine Line, we talk to the Cubs core about what it means to them to play in Chicago and how they plan to turn potential into major league success. One thing is clear—no matter what the record said at the end of 2012 or what it says right now—these guys do not buy into the presumption that the Cubs are years away from winning.

We also check in on the new minor league affiliate that is helping develop the next wave of top talent. After eight years with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs switched their Midwest League affiliate to Kane County, located about 40 miles from Wrigley Field’s doorstep. There are huge benefits to having a farm team nearby, and the Cougars and Cubs both hope to take advantage of that in 2013 and beyond.

Finally, we look at the other side of the Cubs equation—the fan base. This season, the team has developed an advertising and marketing campaign based on the fierce dedication and undying passion of the best fans in the game. We talk to the stars of the new ads and the Cubs front office to find out how it all came together.

To read these stories and more, pick up the May issue of Vine Line, on sale now at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. And you can follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Here’s to a brighter future.

—Gary Cohen

Cubs high on ESPN’s future power rankings

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Much has been written about the organizational overhaul that has occurred on the North Side since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in November 2011. Over the last season-plus, the club has seen a dramatic improvement at both the major and minor league levels.

While many publications strongly believe in what the Cubs front office is doing, ESPN’s brain trust of baseball writers took things a step further, rating the Cubs the sixth best organization in their future power rankings.

ESPN described the piece as an attempt to measure how well teams are set up for sustained success over the next five seasons. Each team was ranked 1-30 (30 points were given if they were the best, 29 if they were second, etc.) on five different categories: major league quality, minor league quality, finances, management and mobility.

The Cubs, who ranked 16th last year, made the league’s biggest improvement. Below is what ESPN said about the club:

Chicago Cubs
Rank: 6
Majors (points awarded): 6
Minors: 26
Finance: 24
Management: 25
Mobility: 24
TOTAL SCORE: 65 of 100

The Overview
In Theo We Trust. This club is undergoing a teardown unseen this side of Houston, but they’ve rid themselves of pretty much every significant payroll obligation beyond 2014. It’s been an encouraging rebuilding effort, though Matt Garza’s injury woes will prevent them from extracting full value for him in a trade. — Buster Olney

The Dilemma
They have made a lot of strides adding position-player talent to the organization, and now they must add arms. Most of their winter spending was on pitchers, but they don’t have a future ace in the pipeline. — Jim Bowden

The System
They’ve turned around substantially after trading Paul Maholm, spending lavishly on international free agents (when permitted) and drafting well in 2012, although most of what I like about this system is a good two years  away.  — Keith Law

In a related story, ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski projected the best 30 players in 2018, which included a pair of Cubs in the top 15: Starlin Castro (8) and Anthony Rizzo (15). Below is what Szymborski wrote about each player:

8. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .293/.341/.478, 19 HR, 4.7 WAR

Can he stay at short? The stats have generally been more positive (or at least, less negative) on Castro’s defense than the eye has been. Wherever he ends up, by 2018 he’s likely to be one of the best hitters for average over the past decade, though he’s not going to ever be a guy who racks up walks.

15. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .273/.356/.520, 34 HR, 4.3 WAR

Ignore Rizzo’s cup of coffee with the Padres, his .285/.342/.463 line with the Cubs in 2012 is a far more accurate representation of where he is as a player. The Theo Epstein Cubs aren’t done rebuilding yet, but if they can round up a worthwhile third baseman, the infield will already be one of the best in baseball.

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